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shadows of echoes of memories of songs
Okay, for a long time now I have been a supermarket snob. I like Sainsburys, because Sainsburys feeds my aspirations ("Tonight I will make prawn and lemongrass filo parcels with a hot-and-sour dip, in my open-plan minimalist kitchen full of shiny appliances and spotless Corian worksurfaces") while still allowing me to buy cheap rice pudding which I can eat cold out of the can.

In the past when I've gone to ASDA, not only has the food been terminally unappealing, slouching towards its best-before date to be binned; not only has the layout been so badly designed that it's impossible to find anything; but the whole place has been heaving with screaming kids running riot around the aisles while their mothers (or possibly older sisters...) try to wallop the kids into obedience. The kids are often even pushing the miniature trolleys provided by the supermarket, which bear a flag proudly identifying the child as an "ASDA shopper in training"; and there can be few things more dangerous in the world of supermarkets than a small child in the throes of tartrazine psychosis armed with a shopping trolley. I've invariably left feeling depressed and dissatisfied.


Today I decided to brave ASDA just to buy badgers. I decided that while I was there, I might as well pick up something for dinner tonight, if I could find anything worth buying. So, dear reader, any guesses as to what I found? A can of "Finest" spaghetti hoops, perhaps?

No, in the end I found some juicy-looking fresh tuna steaks (I decided against shark, swordfish or marlin on the grounds that I hadn't the faintest idea what to do with them), some new potatoes, and broccoli which could actually be bought in sensible quantities (Sainsburys' "buy six kilos, get six free" style of packaging their vegetables may be good value if you're the food-buyer for an organic hippy commune, but it's not much use to the lone shopper buying for one or two). Plus a fresh basil plant to replace our sadly wilted ones, some fresh strawberries, the biggest fresh peas in the pod that I've ever seen outside my mum's garden, and half a trolleyload of impulse buys which I really didn't need but hadn't seen anywhere else.

Then there was the beer. "Oh, the most exciting thing they'll have will be Stella," I thought, "but I'll have a look anyway." Well, I counted nearly 50 varieties of bottled real ale, and that's before I started counting the trappist beers, the cherry beer, the wheat beer... After that, I didn't even dare look at the whisky, though I caught a fleeting and tempting glimpse of the Bowmore and the 20-year-old Laphroaig nestled up against each other.

While searching for the badgers (which I did eventually find!) I found myself wandering around the non-food section of the supermarket. I remember being amazed when I first saw Tesco's selection of inedibles -- "I can't believe they sell DVD players in supermarkets!" -- but ASDA knocks that into the proverbial cocked hat. DVD players? Sure, no problem, plus TV and stereo. Clothes? There's the equivalent of a small branch of C&A tucked away in the corner, only even lower priced. DIY? Light-fittings, furniture, power tools, decorating materials... it's B&Q-lite down there. Not to mention the aisles of books, CDs, DVDs, stationery, kitchenware, home furnishings and so on that we've come to expect from supermarkets.

And, of course, there's the prices. None of this "reassuringly expensive" malarkey; not even, in most cases, confusing 3-for-2 double-or-quits-on-200-reward-points offers; just "everyday low prices". Do I want my life to taste better, or to cost less? Or can I in fact have both?

The main point where Sainsburys still noticeably scores over ASDA is the space. Sainsburys aims for that large-white-plates-with-ostrich-steak-and-rösti-tower-in-the-centre (and possibly rocket garnish on the side) feel; ASDA, on the other hand, goes for the spatial equivalent of a mixed grill with a side-portion of MORE CHIPS.

Sometimes, yes, I do want my life to be twenty-seven different pastel shades of minimalist organic hand-knitted feng-shui-positive low-salt Zen gardening (the Jamie Oliver 'chillout' remix). But sometimes it's good to know the full-fat option is still there, and I don't have to hide it embarrassedly under the kaffir lime leaves.

Current Mood: full-fridged

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verlaine From: verlaine Date: April 4th, 2004 07:10 am (UTC) (Link)
"slouching towards best-before to be binned"!

I think that's the most brilliant pun I've read in ages!
sesquipedality From: sesquipedality Date: April 4th, 2004 07:25 am (UTC) (Link)
I was most disappointed to find the Oxford Tescos distinctly lacking in shiny and interesting other stuff. Fortunately I persuaded Sarah to try the one in Abbingdon instead which has shiny Tesco's random tatty goodness. She is now a convert.
bopeepsheep From: bopeepsheep Date: April 4th, 2004 01:57 pm (UTC) (Link)
Mmmm, Abingdon Tesco. I don't get to go there because the Oxford one is so close to our house. I must try fluencing, to steer imc in that general direction...
sesquipedality From: sesquipedality Date: April 4th, 2004 03:49 pm (UTC) (Link)
It's full of shiny consumer goods, artwork, kitchenware, and other interesting tat.

Of course this may or may not be a good way to fluence.

Unfortunately we arrived half an hour before closing yesterday and had to do boring food shopping instead of looking at shiny tat. Still, next time.
sesquipedality From: sesquipedality Date: April 4th, 2004 03:50 pm (UTC) (Link)
Oh, and why is it that every time I see the word Abingdon, I think of the Angel of the Abyss? I blame Julian May.
gnimmel From: gnimmel Date: April 4th, 2004 07:43 am (UTC) (Link)
Last time I went to ASDA there was, er, no need to ask where the fish counter was. By the time I emerged blinking into the sunlight I felt like I'd been slapped around the face a few times with a ripe haddock.
If change has occured I may feel rather more motivated to go back, particularly since ISTR they did organic hand-knitted soup much more cheaply than in Sainsbury's. If I actually knew where any ASDAs were around here, that is. :/
ghoti From: ghoti Date: April 4th, 2004 07:54 am (UTC) (Link)
I've not noticed the fish counter at Asda in Cambridge smelling.

It's up Coldhams Lane, at the Beehive Centre. Coldham's Lane is the one with Sainsburys at one end and Newmarket road at the other.
gnimmel From: gnimmel Date: April 4th, 2004 09:11 am (UTC) (Link)
That was the one; I used to pass it every day on my way to work. Unfortunately I live in Bedford now. :(

To be fair, ISTR it was an unexpectedly hot day early on in the year, so they'd probably been caught unawares and sorted it out later on.

imc From: imc Date: April 4th, 2004 02:06 pm (UTC) (Link)
If I actually knew where any ASDAs were around here, that is. :/

asda.co.uk reckons that the nearest ones are Dunstable and Luton - so not that close, then.

Similarly, if you type in `Oxford' then you get Wheatley (which is a tiny store by comparison) followed by High Wycombe, which is 22 miles away.
oldbloke From: oldbloke Date: April 4th, 2004 08:25 am (UTC) (Link)
ASDA have always been OK for beer.
You can treat marlin or swordfish like tuna - maybe pepper it a bit, then sear it until it's /just/ done through. We occasionally get marlin at Safeway, once in the deadfood section massively reduced, rah!
jiggery_pokery From: jiggery_pokery Date: April 4th, 2004 09:17 am (UTC) (Link)
Excellent post! Often the most entertaining ones are about the little details, the nothings in particular.

I would respectfully offer another perspective on your reflections about space; this is a judgment to be made on a store-by-store basis. We have at least four Asdae within spitting distance of here, though unfortunately the three closest are all about three or four miles away. The fourth is up in Hartlepool, about 25 minutes up the road, and is the size of a small aircraft hangar. It has long aisles and masses of space between them. (It doesn't actually have more different products on sale, as far as I can tell, and it doesn't even have more aisles - it just has more of each particular item on sale, and accordingly looks very grand.) Even the clothing departments are disappointingly similar; we had a grand tour of three of them one particular night in January (and I mean night - 24-hour supermarket opening is a great thing). Unfortunately even the megastore didn't have the particular cheap pin-striped jacket in the right size, like its smaller counterparts.
nja From: nja Date: April 4th, 2004 02:34 pm (UTC) (Link)
I would respectfully offer another perspective on your reflections about space; this is a judgment to be made on a store-by-store basis.

And other judgements. I use four Sainsburys in Leicester quite frequently. The one in the centre is used by people buying last-minute evening meals (so a lot of ready-made food) and the sort of people who have to use the bus to do their shopping (so a lot of economy lines). I'm more the former these days, but I was definitely in the latter camp for many years. There's a definite council estate ambience in this one, a lot of refugees too.

The one on Belgrave Rd is fresh coriander land (I used to be able to buy huge bunches of it in there before it became a common sight in any supermarket). All sorts of odd Indian veg, umpteen varieties of lentil, etc. I used to live just up the road from this one, I bump into Asian colleagues whenever I go in there.

The one in Oadby is a drizzle of basil-infused olive oil on your handmade gluten-free pasta. Lots of hideously expensive dried mushrooms, the bakery section hardly has any sliced bread but plenty of rustic loaves.

The big one on Fosse Park is for people doing the weekly shop in their 4x4, huge packs of everything and 24 hour opening. (And it's just over the road from Borders, so I end up buying 20 quid's worth of shopping and 50 quid's worth of books).
bopeepsheep From: bopeepsheep Date: April 4th, 2004 01:25 pm (UTC) (Link)
If you like Asda, its big transatlantic brother Wal-Mart will blow your mind. ;-) Random items to be bought there could include: baby buggies, TV/VCR/DVD combos, ride-on-lawnmowers, ice-cream in 100 varieties, shoes, dresses... the downside is that - more so than Asda - there is no coherent scheme to stocking, items go by brand rather than type so you'll find all the Nabisco cereals together, then all the Kelloggs, then other brands, so looking for "cornflakes" could take ten minutes, walking up and down aisles to compare. The cookies will share an aisle with lard will share an aisle with sauce. Soda will be in three seemingly random locations, different types in each. It's a nightmare, and Asda seem to have picked up a lot of this vibe. But for value and range, they're pretty good. (I love the George baby stuff, and occasionally find nice clothes for me there too. And they sell Cherry Coke in 2L bottles which seemingly no one else in Oxfordshire does.)
sbp From: sbp Date: April 4th, 2004 02:49 pm (UTC) (Link)
But it's Wal-Mart. And Wal-Mart are Bad.
bopeepsheep From: bopeepsheep Date: April 4th, 2004 03:27 pm (UTC) (Link)
Absolutely. But sometimes Bad can be Fun in a Dirty kind of way.
mobbsy From: mobbsy Date: April 5th, 2004 10:02 am (UTC) (Link)
I loathe Wal-Mart ever since spending 3 days in their corporate datacentre in Bentonville, Arkansas.

They had slogans painted on the walls. It was a barn full of cubes as far as the eye could see. Everybody seemed worried about being seen to do a good job by their managers, they got in early and worked late.

I'm currently sitting in a cube in corporate America with motivational posters up in the hallways without great distress; so I've obviously become somewhat inured to it. Wal-Mart was the first and still the worst example of the type I've seen. It didn't help that the town is a dump, it's still the only place in the US I've been that I really didn't like.
claerwen From: claerwen Date: April 4th, 2004 03:10 pm (UTC) (Link)
I do all our food shopping at the beehive centre Asda except what I manage to do at the market or Proper Local Shops, mostly because it's less than five unladen bike minutes from our house... My favourite thing from there recently was a deckchair-striped duvet cover set for like seven quid or something. It makes our bedroom feel like a saucy postcard :-)
imc From: imc Date: April 5th, 2004 07:18 am (UTC) (Link)
broccoli which could actually be bought in sensible quantities

Bags of frozen broccoli florets is a convenient way to buy it (at least in Tesco). Depends on whether you have freezer space (but the bags aren't that big).

I used to buy almost everything in Sainsbury's, but then I moved way out to Eastock's Ford where I pass not one but two Tescos on the way home from work, and I got better. Tesco does often seem to be cheaper than Sainsbury's (especially the inflated city-centre version we've acquired within the last couple of years) but they don't sell Sainsbury's ginger snaps or Sainsbury's Classic Cola (which is almost indistinguishable from the real thing).

Asda seems to be bopeepsheep's favourite supermarket, which makes it a bit of a shame that we are 25 miles from the nearest one, not counting the one in Wheatley which apparently is not bopeepsheep's favourite supermarket because it's too small to have a clothes department. Small is a relative thing - you could still fit three Tesco Metros in there. I've never noticed rampant children on any of the occasions we've been to an Asda.
jiggery_pokery From: jiggery_pokery Date: April 7th, 2004 08:24 pm (UTC) (Link)
Talking of badgers, this may amuse if you haven't seen it before: Installing Linux on a dead badger. Well, the dead bit might not amuse, but we all know that live badgers run BadgerOS.
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